Bacow confers 1,292 university degrees as part of Harvard Virtual Second Degree; President Ruth Simmons urges graduates to “be a force for inclusion” | New
Harvard on Thursday awarded 2,440 degrees to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in its second consecutive virtual launch ceremony, including 1,292 degrees to the College’s 2021 class.
A sunny three-hundred-year-old theater, where the Beginning normally takes place, was empty on Thursday. The University has chosen to postpone its in-person graduation ceremony in favor of an online ceremony due to Covid-19, even as other schools in the region have held socially distant ceremonies in recent weeks.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow opened the ceremony with recorded remarks from his Massachusetts Hall office, noting that “this is where I came to work.”
“I haven’t done this for 440 days and I count – but who matters?” Bacow joked.
“A global pandemic has separated us this year, but we have learned together; we grew up together; we overcame it together, ”added Bacow. “I have never seen such courage, such determination. And I have never, never been so proud of this institution.
Harvard ceremony in honor of the 2021 class.
In the keynote address at the ceremony, Ruth J. Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M University, drew on the story of her isolation education in Houston and called on Harvard and its graduates to “be a force to be reckoned with. inclusion”.
“I ask all of you to declare that you will not sanction any discriminatory actions that hold certain groups for the benefit of others,” Simmons told the graduates. “I ask you to be a force for inclusion by not choosing enclaves of wealth, privilege and tribalism in such a way that you abandon the lessons you learned from your experience of diversity at Harvard. “
Simmons received a doctorate. of Harvard in Romance Languages and Literatures in 1973 and then served as President of Brown University and Smith College, in addition to Prairie View. At Brown, she became the first black president of an Ivy League institution.
Towards the end of her speech, Ms. Simmons asked graduates what they “are prepared to do to recognize and address the historical prejudices and inequalities that so many continue to experience.”
“Will your actions point us in a more encouraging direction?” She said. “For just as we tell the moral bankruptcy of those who cruelly enslaved others, we also tell the story of those who were also guilty because they refused to challenge the practice of slavery.
“Just as I ask Harvard to use its voice on behalf of minority institutions that have been unfairly treated over time, I ask you to join the cause of justice wherever you go,” he said. she concludes.
She reflected on feeling like an outsider while at Harvard, envious of her peers who could see themselves in the history and traditions of the University.
“Not much that I could see at Harvard at the time represented me,” she said. “Perhaps it was the memory of this feeling that prompted me to stay in university life to make this experience easier for others who felt excluded.”
“The need to make universities more aware of the reaction of the first generation and underserved communities to the damaged tradition in many universities has shaped my belief in the importance for individuals to feel fully included and respected in as a learner, erasing the vestiges of denigration that inevitably accumulate in an unequal society. Simmons added.
In her remarks, she called on universities like Harvard “to recognize the limits imposed” on historically black colleges and universities like Prairie View “by the legacy of underfunding and public isolation of higher education.” .
“While universities like Harvard were on the rise, thriving on endowments, strong enrollments, constant expansion of programs, massive infrastructure improvements and significant growth in endowments, HBCUs often had strong winds. hindering their development, ”she said.
Silvana Gómez ’21 and Graduate School of Education student Vincent H. Bish Jr. delivered the 2021 undergraduate and graduate speeches in English respectively.
Gómez shared an anecdote from her first day of kindergarten, when she clung to her mother’s leg for fear of having to “face this new world” on her own.
She said the 2021 class now bears the responsibility of creating a new standard after the Covid-19 pandemic and introducing changes to tackle racism, xenophobia and classism.
Gómez tasked graduates with working to dismantle oppression, highlighting police brutality, unequal access to health care, and violence against Asian Americans as notable challenges of their generation.
“Generations to come look up to us as we put out fires and lay the foundation for a world they will be proud to be a part of,” she said.
Faced with this “important and crucial task,” Gómez acknowledged that graduates might want to hold on to the familiarity and comfort of Harvard, just as she clung to her mother years ago.
She urged her peers to remember her mother’s advice that “no matter how scared you are in the moment, you get over your fears and keep pushing.
In a speech titled “Four Lonely Names,” Bish reflected on how the Class of 2021 can honor the legacy of their ancestors and how they can honor the four enslaved people who lived at Harvard.
“I imagine they are telling us that we, the living, have a unique duty to the deceased,” he said.
Citing Harvard’s history as the place where the idea of ”intersectionality” was born and the birthplace of the nation’s first public health school, Bish called on graduates to use their intellect to “give up the spirit of ‘powerlessness’ and to strive for greater equity.
“The work we need to do – in this decade – is too precious for your shyness,” he said. “The mountains we have to climb are too steep for soft shoes.”
Vish called on the Class of 2021 to live a life worthy of the service of the four Harvard slaves – named Bilhah, Venus, Titus and Juba – and to be not only “bearers of great privilege, but breakers of mighty yokes as well.” “
The University also awarded seven honorary degrees at Thursday’s ceremony to actress and professor Anna Deavere Smith, photojournalist Sebastião R. Salgado, former Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall , educator Salman “Sal” Khan, sociology professor Arlie R. Hochschild, Marty Baron, outgoing editor of the Washington Post, and Nobel laureate Frances H. Arnold.
Vocalist and bassist Devon N. Gates ’23, a dual degree candidate at College and Berklee College of Music, performed the song “Stand By Me” from a recording at the Sanders Theater. The ceremony ended with a virtual performance of the song “Fair Harvard” by the Harvard Choruses and the Harvard Band.
Harvard has pledged to potentially host in-person launch ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, both of which celebrated online graduation due to the pandemic.
“Someday you’ll be celebrating your graduation on campus with classmates and friends in familiar places – and that day can’t come soon enough,” Bacow said in his welcoming remarks. “For now, rejoice in the company of those who have encouraged and encouraged you.”